An Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines

In his post Pressing On – Sanctification in Salvation last week Ken wrote;

Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives.

The process of sanctification is both passive and active on our part.  It is passive in that God is the one doing the work in us.  It is He who is making us more like His Son Jesus.

However, it is also active in that we are called to strive to obey and take steps that will increase our sanctification.  In other words, God’s grace does not nullify our responsibility, it empowers it.

One of the ways we take an active part in sanctification is through what have come to be called the spiritual disciplines.

The spiritual disciplines and Jesus

We often think of Jesus’ impartation of truth in terms of His teaching, but it was much more than that.

Jesus came to teach us great truths, certainly, but He also came to embed them in a particular way of life.  (Darryl Tippens)

Jesus practiced spiritual disciplines Himself and we should follow His example.

  • Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2).
  • Jesus rose early to spend time in prayer (Mark 1:35).
  • Jesus spent time in solitude seeking God (Luke 6:12).

The spiritual disciplines in church history

Even a cursory study of church history reveals that throughout the history of the Church followers of Christ have participated in certain practices, habits, or disciplines in order to become more like Jesus in all that they do, say and think.

Christian literature throughout the ages is filled with references to practices such as Scripture reading, meditation and memorization, prayer, fasting, solitude and others.  These practices continue today and should be found at work among us as a body of believers.


The spiritual disciplines and sanctification

It is important to understand that spiritual disciplines do not in and of themselves produce sanctification.  We can NEVER become more like Christ through our own efforts.

As Paul tells us in Colossians 2:20-23;

If with Christ you died to elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch…these have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  (ESV, emphasis mine)

We must never forget that God is the one that produces holiness in us.  It is not something we manufacture on our own by creating some list of do’s and don’ts that we do our best to follow.  That is nothing more than legalism, and legalism creates hypocrites not holy men and women of God.

If you found out that at a certain time on a certain day in a certain place the richest man alive was going to drop a package containing a check written out to you for two million dollars but that you had to be in the specific place at the specific time on the specific day in order to receive it, what would you do?

Personally I would do whatever I had to in order to be right where I needed to be in order to get that check!  Who wouldn’t?

Now let’s say you actually did get there and get that check.  Would you walk away from that experience saying that you had made yourself rich by your own actions?  Of course you wouldn’t.  You only positioned yourself so that someone else could make you rich.

That’s what the spiritual disciplines do for us.  They position us in God’s presence regularly so that He can do a mighty work in us, making us more like His Son.  But He is the one doing the work, not us.

The spiritual disciplines and godly habits

CB064037Another way the disciplines work in our lives is that they replace sinful habits with godly ones.

We often times think of sin as individual acts of disobedience, and that is true as far as it goes.  However, often times–most times in fact–those individual acts of disobedience are produced from ingrained sinful habits.

When we attack those acts of disobedience head on we often find ourselves frustrated with our lack of progress as the same sins beset us again and again.

The problem is that we are not attacking the root of the sin, those old ways of thinking and doing things before we were born again.

God uses the practice of spiritual disciplines to transform our hearts, which in turn transforms our habits until we find that the sins that have so easily beset us in the past are no longer a temptation at all;

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11, ESV).


6 thoughts on “An Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines

  1. “It is passive in that God is the one doing the work in us. It is He who is making us more like His Son Jesus.”

    A great reminder for me–I get caught up sometimes in trying to be my kids Holy Spirit!!

    • Josie: An excellent question, and sometimes the answer is–nothing! However, typically speaking, when we talk of meditation, we are referring to a period of intense focus and concentration on a portion of Scripture where we engage our heart and mind in understanding and applying it as well as just the sheer joy that comes with knowing the Word of God at that level. Often times, this does cross over into prayer and worship.

      Prayer is of course communication with God the Father and can take many forms, praying Scripture is certainly one of them. A distinction has been made between the two throughout the history of the church, but the lines between them are certainly not as clearly defined as one might try to make them and of course anytime we encounter the God of the universe we may find ourselves moving in and out of meditation, prayer and worship all in the same experience.

  2. Wow, good answer. I think there are times when I have encountered God and been unable to speak, just awe. Mind, spirit and body in a state of awareness of the presence of God. Communion that doesn’t require speech.

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